Boralia

It only seems fitting that with my 27th birthday occurring next week to write about another birthday dinner I had earlier this year. In June I went for dinner at Boralia to celebrate one of my favourite people in the world’s birthday: Cynthia.

Boralia is a restaurant that is serving historically inspired dishes representing the cuisines of Canada’s aboriginal population and early settlers. You won’t see any stereotypical representations of Canadiana in this restaurant. There are no Hudson’s Bay blankets, or stripes of colouring drawing on this imagery. There is no overuse of antlers and pelts adorning the walls. There is a large mural illustrating a lush green forest, and natural materials are used throughout the restaurant. The simplicity and use of other iconography to conjure images of Canada is welcomed and prepares you for the redefining of Canadian cuisine and culture.

We started with the L’éclade and Red Fife Levain Bread & Cultured Butter.

borealia_ss_8Photo Credit: BoraliaLeclade-credit-Nick-Merzetti-e1419037958616Photo Credit: Eat, Drink, Travel

Mussels smoked in pine needles and pine ash butter  c.1605

The interesting thing about the menu at Boralia is that each item is given a date at the end of the description, informing the diner of the historical period that this dish is from. The L’éclade is a dish that was brought to Canada by Samuel de Champlain and was a favourite among his crew. The history nerd in me loved this attention to detail and historical accuracy.

The presentation of this dish is beautiful. The bowl of mussels is brought to your table covered in a bell jar. The server slowly lifts the cloche to release fragrant smoke that has been infused with pine needles. The smoke slowly dissipates in the air but the smell and flavourings of pine are maintained in the butter. The mussels are tender and salty, infused with smoky and floral tones from the pine. Ordering the side of bread is a must but not for the bread itself; rather to soak up all the delicious butter pooling at the bottom of the bowl.

Next we ordered the Pigeon Pie.

9.Borealia-Nick-Merzetti-featured-image-644x415Photo Credit: Source Unknown

Pigeon Pie with roast squab breast and asparagus c.1611.

If you have ever walked in Toronto with me, you would know of my hatred of pigeons. They are dirty and messy and I cannot tolerate people who feed them. The fact that I could eat my animal enemy was enticing.

The pie crust was buttery, flaky and crunchy: it melted over your tongue as if it was purely made of butter. It was a perfect pie crust. The filling however, was not worthy of being encased by a crust this good. The filling was not bad but it was nothing impressive. It was a typical meat pie filling: carrots, pies and a thick gravy. The taste and texture of squab was not apparent in this pie.

The squab breast on the side was the representation of the meat that I was looking for. The breast was seared on the outside, creating a crunchy shell around the whole piece that locked in the juiciness of the meat. The meat was tender but a bit gamy; squab tastes and feels like a mixture of duck and chicken. It has the richness and flavour of duck but the softness and almost creaminess of chicken. I would be perfectly happy with an order of the duck breast without the pie.

Next we had the Pan-Roasted Elk.

imagePhoto Credit: The Globe and Mail

Pan-roasted Elk with wild rice-crusted egg, cranberry gastrique, burnt onion, and radish.

I wasn’t blown away by this dish. The cranberry gastrique was my favourite component of the plate. The tartness was a nice accompaniment to the rich, gaminess of the elk. The elk was slightly tough and did not have much flavour beside the gaminess that is typical of elk. The wild rice-crusted egg was good. The rice added nutiness to the dish that gave it a woodsy, more rustic taste. The egg oozed over the elk and help distract from the toughness of the meat.

To finish we ordered the Louisbourg Hot Chocolate Beignets.

b6Photo Credit:  Dine Magazine

Louisbourg hot chocolate beignets with spiced chocolate ganache, beer batter, and lemon sugar c.1795.

These were delicious. This is one of the simplest but best desserts I have had at a restaurant. The beignets were hot from being recently fried. They were the right balance of fatty, savoury and sweet. The chocolate ganache was warm, rich, silky and viscous: it slowly oozed out of each beignet with every bite. It was the best chocolate I have ever eaten. The lemon sugar added a light, citrus flavour to the decadent beignets and made them not taste quite so heavy.

I would recommend a visit to Boralia. It is a nice, upscale taste of home. We are often criticized for not having a national cuisine but I think Boralia is the start of that movement.

Happy munching!

Bar Buca

When you’ve eaten your way through most brunch restaurants in Toronto you get tired of seeing the same thing on every menu. I can make your standard bacon and eggs big breakfast that appears at every restaurant and to be frank with you, I like my eggs better. Now when I go for brunch I am looking for something more; I am looking for something different. This fits the description of Bar Buca.

I first went to Bar Buca back in February for brunch with Cynthia. Bar Buca is sleek and modern, using slick materials like marble, steel and concrete. It very much captures the look of contemporary and upscale Italy. You could easily picture this restaurant juxtaposed against the historic streets in Rome. There is an espresso bar at the front of the restaurant that brews coffee for dine-in and take-out. There is a long, wooden chair rail that wraps around the front of the restaurant. The tables are high bar tables with smooth wooden tops and stool seating. There is a long marble bar with leather stools and overlooks the tiny, open-concept kitchen. Seating is limited and communal, a concept I support. I will gladly take sitting with strangers if it means I can enjoy good food instead of waiting in line.

We were seated at the marble bar, drooling over the fresh foccaccia that was coming out of the oven in a steady stream.

I ordered the Ammazza Fegato.

IMG_3303The Ammazza Fegato with Tuscan offal sausage, farro, cavolo nero, king oyster and a poached farm egg.

This is rich and decadent. The farro is meaty, with a slightly crunchy grit to it. It is swimming in a pool of butter. The king oyster mushrooms are woodsy and fleshy. They add a silky meatiness to the base of this dish. The egg is nested and protected in one of the best sausages I have ever eaten. Offal refers to a combination of organ meats and this combination creates a juicy and evenly flavoured sausage. When I slice into the egg, it oozes all over the sausage and mixes with the butter and farro and creates this thick and creamy sauce.

This is one of the best breakfast I have eaten.

Cynthia ordered the Uova Rossa.

IMG_3301The Uova Rossa with duck egg yolk, bay scallop, crisp potato and scallions.

The duck yolk is thick and creamy. The scallops add a sweet ocean flavour to the dish. They are salty and fresh. The potatoes add a crunchiness and the scallions are freshness.

The highlight of the brunch: we were seating at the bar with a single seat on either side of us. The manager came over and asked us how we enjoyed our breakfast. I assumed that because we are adorable (obviously Cynthia, not me) he was just being polite. He proceeded to ask us if we could move seats and it would be worth our will. He brought over a beautiful, perfectly round bombolone filled with vanilla cream and rolled in cinnamon sugar.

IMG_3692All I have to do to get a free donut is move over one stool? OBVIOUSLY. This is the best donut I have ever eaten. It was still warm from being fried. It is filled with a thick and luscious cream, with the most aromatic vanilla flavour I have had in any dessert. The cinnamon sugar is lightly covering the entire surface of the donut. The donut itself is airy and light.

I only* (coffee is slowly becoming a necessity in my life despite having always made a conscious effort to not be a coffee drinker) drink coffee when I go for brunch. And Italians know coffee. Bar Buca is an amazing place to get your coffee fix. They serve their coffee with a sugar that is a mix of espresso crema and sugar. This is basically crack. It is thick, creamy and the right balance between coffee bite and sugary sweetness.

This donut and that coffee was the reason I wanted to return to Bar Buca with my favourite Italian, GC.

GC ordered the Carbonara Schiacciata or stuffed foccaccia.

IMG_3689The Carbonara Schiacciata with guanciale, farm eggs, crotonese and black pepper.

This sandwich. The foccaccia is light but at the same time dense. It is salty and is subtly piney from the rosemary. The egg is partially broken and spread thinly across the bread. Guanciale is a cured Italian meat made from pork jowl and the use of this meat adds a salty briny flavour to the sandwich, rather than a smoky taste which would be derived from using a meat like prosciutto. The crotonese cheese is salty and nutty, but more subtle and sweet than most Italian sheep cheeses.

I ordered the Coniglio Alla Milanese.

IMG_3690The Coniglio Alla Milanese with rabbit loin, prosciutto, smoked mozzarella and fresh gremolata.

Rabbit is not my favourite meat. I find it too much work for what you get. But this. This is how I can eat rabbit. This is essentially an Italian cordon bleu. The rabbit is thinly sliced and is extremely delicate. The prosciutto is even more thinly sliced, draped over the rabbit like tissue paper. The mozzarella is smoky and creamy, it oozes out over the rabbit with each slice and bite. The gremolata adds a fresh, spring citrus element to the rabbit, lightening the dish. The egg floating on top of the rabbit makes this meal breakfast and not dinner.

I am obviously in love with this restaurant. It is an upscale brunch that is not for the faint of heart. I acknowledge that to many, this is not what brunch is about but this is what I am looking for when I go for brunch. Brunch should not be restricted to just eggs and toast. Brunch is just as much of an opportunity to experiment and push boundaries as any other meal. And Bar Buca does that.

Happy munching!

Uncle Betty’s

Is there anything better than discovering a delicious brunch spot? Yes! Discovering a delicious brunch spot near your house! I love our little house, for sale but it is hard to find a decent brunch spot north of Eglinton (if this comment is offensive, please suggest away). When a friend suggested we check out Uncle Betty’s we jumped at the opportunity. Brunch, less than 10 minutes away from our house and it’s good?! Yes, please!

Uncle Betty’s is a cute diner-style restaurant, with bright walls and lots of windows. There are mustaches painted on the walls and it is very family-friendly. If you aren’t into small children screaming, crying and jostling you while you eat your brunch, don’t come here. Since I can tolerate near-anything if I am eating good food, this isn’t a problem for me.

I ordered The Ultimate Grilled Cheese.

IMG_1643 IMG_1644 IMG_1645White bread with melted white and classic Cheddar cheese, a slab of homemade Mac ‘n Cheese, topped with pulled pork and drizzled with roasted garlic aioli.

This was delicious and ridiculous. Do you need to eat this? Probably not. Should you? Probably yes. It was cheesy, rich and messy. For some reason, messy food always tastes better. I loved the combination of textures from the mac ‘n cheese, slightly spongy, contrasted with the shredded pork and the oozy silkiness of the cheese.

GC ordered The Breakfast in a Bowl.

IMG_1642A breakfast-style poutine with home fries topped with sausage or bacon, two eggs, gravy and Cheddar cheese.

Overall we enjoyed our brunch at Uncle Betty’s. The food was a good solid take on your typical brunch menu. There were a few over-the-top menu items but they were not too ambitious that the execution failed. The rest of the menu was solid, hearty brunch that was at a decent quality for the price. The service was ok, not great, but everyone else seems to enjoy brunch at a bit more of a leisurely pace then I do.

Since we had a good experience when we went to Uncle Betty’s back in October, we decided to go again, especially to try the Dreesen’s donuts. GC ordered The Breakfast in a Bowl, a good indication that it was good and I decided to be decadent and order the Betty’s Benedict.

Betty’s Benedict

2 poached eggs served on a Dreesen’s Donut with a slice of peameal. Topped with a lemon hollandaise and served with home fries.

IMG_2360 IMG_2362I was disappointed. I expected each egg to be on its own donut. I know this is decadent and ridiculous but you are putting my eggs Benedict on a donut, I think it’s a fair assumption that this should be ridiculous. The donut was dry and had no flavour. It didn’t have sourness or sweetness of a plain donut. The Benedict as a whole was also fairly plain and flavourless. There was no zestiness or zip to the hollandaise sauce but my eggs were oozy.

This time the service was much slower as the staff was preparing for a big group. I understand large groups need to be accommodated but do not do this at the expense of your other customers.

We bought a half-dozen donuts to take home even though the donut in my benny wasn’t fantastic. The donuts were delicious. They were fresh, airy and light. My favourite was easily the cinnamon-sugar donut.

Uncle Betty’s isn’t my favourite choice for brunch but if I am looking for something local, it makes the cut. Happy munching!

Delux

At the start of June, I get the opportunity to celebrate the birthday of one of the greatest people of all time, Cynthia. As you know, Cynthia is great and is one of my favourite people to share food with. To celebrate this year’s birthday we went to Ossington to have dinner at Delux.

It seems unfair for me to taunt you with this deliciousness as Delux recently just closed but it really was delicious and you need to know about it. There are also talks that they are working on something new so you can look forward to that.

We started off with mojitos and decided to order two appetizers and split an entree. Our first starter was the Grilled Tiger Shrimp.

IMG_0650 IMG_0651The grilled tiger shrimp and tostones.

This was delicious. The avocado was smooth, buttery and fresh with hints of lime. The shrimp was slightly charred and smoky. It was tender and sweet. The tostones were the perfect platforms to serve all this deliciousness on. I preferred these tostones to the ones at La Cubana. They were more tender but still crispy with hints of salty, nuttiness.

Next, we had the Duck Confit Empanada.

IMG_0652The crust was flaky, buttery and tender. It carefully enveloped the soft, delicate duck. The duck was perfect – fatty, salty and tender. Raisins were dotted throughout the empanada. They were soaked, juicy and tender. They were little tidbits of sweetness sprinkled throughout the richness of the duck.

Then we had the Grilled Flat-Iron Steak.

IMG_0655 IMG_0656The grilled flat-iron steak with chimichurri and and shallots.

This was not great and the low point of the meal. We asked for the steak to be cooked medium and it came out rare. It was lightly seared on all sides and very pink, almost purple, on the inside. If the steak had been a high-quality cut of meat this wouldn’t have been a problem but it was not a good cut of meat. The meat was tough and chewy, sinews threaded throughout. Ick. The crispy shallots were the high point of the dish but the condiment should never be the high point.

And lastly, but never least, we ordered dessert. We split an order of Buttermilk Donuts.

IMG_0657

These donuts were the perfect cap to a delicious dinner. They were still warm from being fried, thickly dusted in cinnamon sugar. They were dipped in a thick cream topped with caramel.  The presentation was simple but sweet. It brought back memories of summers at The Ex eating fresh Tiny Tom Donuts. These are the best donuts I have ever eaten (sorry Tiny Tom!). I have found something I love more than churros, which I didn’t think was possible. Yummmmmms.

After dinner we headed up the street to Bellwoods Brewery to enjoy some beers and people watching – the perfect night on Ossington Avenue. Happy birthday Cynthia – it’s going to be a great year!

Happy munching!

La Cubana

On Sunday we found ourselves enjoying a beautiful day in Ronscevalles and a lovely brunch at La Cubana. When you enter the restaurant, they take your name and number and text when your table is ready. You are then able to leave the restaurant and explore the Roncey strip while you wait. This is perfect. It was a beautiful day and it was nice to not have to wait inside and within earshot of the restaurant. Once in the restaurant, it was nice to not have future brunch goers eying us down while they wait hungrily.

This restaurant has a cute, retro, 1950’s vibe to it which I imagine all of Cuba to have. The walls are tiled with a pale green tile, there is a long bar with stools and the floor tiles have a Spanish vibe to them. We were seated at the bar with a great view of the open kitchen.

IMG_0358We started off with some cocktails since we were having a late brunch at 12 o’clock. GC ordered a Cuba libre and I ordered a mojito.

IMG_0360A mojito is the perfect accompaniment to brunch. It is light, fresh with a hint of time.

GC ordered the Breakfast Sandwich.

IMG_0362 IMG_0363The Breakfast Sandwich with tomato, avocado, queso fresco, and a sunny side up egg with sides of rice, beans, tostones, and slaw.

This sandwich was recommended to us by our server. GC was debating between this sandwich and the Cubano and the server said that he had to go with the breakfast sandwich. This sandwich was ah-mazing. The highlight was the the huge, thick, slab-like piece of queso fresco in the middle of this sandwich. It was creamy, soft and milky. The egg was runny and oozed smoothly over the rest of the sandwich with every bite.

I ordered the Pork Belly.

IMG_0364 IMG_0365 IMG_0367Pork belly with pineapple glaze and sunny side up eggs with sides of rice, beans, tostones, and slaw.

This is one of the best breakfasts I have ever had. I would like every breakfast to come with pork belly rather than bacon. The pork belly was fatty, juicy, pull-apart deliciousness. The pineapple glaze had a sweetness to it, with big chunks of pineapple dotting the pork belly.

The eggs were a thing of beauty. I loved how rich in colour the yolks were: they were a marigold, yellow/orange colour and tasted sweet and creamy. They were done over-medium, the right balance of oozy goodness and thicker, creamy cooked yolk. The yolk oozed over the rice and beans.

The rice and beans were tasty. They had a nutty, slightly spicy flavour to them. The slaw was tangy and crunchy. The tostones were the only thing I wasn’t crazy about. The breading was crunchy and not greasy but I am not one for plantains. I topped my entire plate in a healthy amount of house made hot sauce. It was so tasty. Sweet, spicy, with a little bit of tang and bite. They should sell this so I can buy it.

We finished off our brunch with a dessert of two cafe con leches and donuts.

IMG_0368This was a great cup of coffee. It was light, creamy and sweet. The donuts were warm, and covered in a combination of cinnamon and sugar. How can that not be good? It was the perfect way to finish our meal.

This restaurant is everything I love about food in Toronto: different flavours and cuisines that you would never think of trying in neighbourhoods you don’t necessarily visit often but should. I would highly recommend a brunch here and I plan to return with various people and sample more of the menu. And the best part: they have a patio. I will be spending many summer days and nights at this spot.

Happy munching!